Almost an hour outside of Montreal sits a quiet and pleasant stretch of land that belongs to the Petty family. What’s normally an open field on the farm has been changed for the day, today it houses the exterior of the X-Mansion.
Throngs of children are scattered about the front of the lawn as debris is strewn about and a giant green screen looms behind them. Standing in the middle of them is Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, Evan Peters as Quicksilver, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, and Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert.
“She’s living her own separate life almost like a mutant freedom fighter,” Simon Kinberg says of Raven’s beginnings in the film.
After the ending of Days of Future Past, the world not only knows that mutants are around but they’re beginning to accept them in their everyday life. Raven of course is among the most famous, as the blue-skinned woman that saved the President on the lawn of the White House. The type of figure that is taught about in school and whose image can be found in text books. Lucky for her, her shapeshifting abilities allow her remain a chameleon in the world. Raven starts the film in East Germany, working on the fringes to help save mutants in need, and seeing the world that is a direct contradiction of Charles Xavier’s dream.
“She’s seen Vietnam, she’s seen the abuse, she’s seen the murder,” Bryan Singer says. “She sees the other side of racism, of bigotry. Yes, Martin Luther King won the Civil Rights movement, but it’s a process… So she still knows the Strykers of the world exist, they may exist off the grid. She knows there’s other things going on with mutants. She knows just because they’re polite about it doesn’t mean there isn’t prejudice.”
As the take is about to begin, Lawrence coaches some of the extras on what some of them could be doing differently from their “classmates” standing next to them, to get a good mix of reactions from the crowds.
As the cameras roll, Evan Peters’ speedster, now sporting a RUSH T-shirt, walks up to the familiar faces and has one line, which I won’t repeat.
Following fan outcry over his costume on the cover of a magazine two years ago, Peters was the breakout star of Days of Future Past and the focal point of the most memorable sequence in the film. He has returned for the sequel, but there lies an obstacle in his path: topping the first sequence. To the credit of Apocalypse, they’re trying to outdo themselves. The Quicksilver sequence alone has taken thirty days of shooting on the part of the second unit.
“They did such a f***ing awesome job,” Peters says about the scene in Days of Future Past. “The special effects team is amazing. Brian Smrz over at Second Unit, everybody just made that whole sequence awesome, I thought. I was just a minion. They just told me what to do so I didn’t really have much to do with it but I was curious to see how they were going to top it and if they could and I think they have. I’m very excited to see it myself. I’m excited for everybody to see it, because we’ve been working hard on it.
Peters went on to explain that much of the sequence has been shot on stages. He also describes his character in this film as “a little more mature” than the last time we saw him and assures us he’s not quite the klepto we saw beforehand. There’s also the matter of his parentage, which was teased previously, but will now be fully acknowledged in the movie.
“I have learned that (Magneto)’s my father at this point and I am trying to… It’s like an adoptive child or any kind of child who has a strange father. He knows who he is now so he is trying to find him. He’s been searching for him. It’s been 10 years and he hasn’t found him and then something happens.”
They go for another take, Quicksilver finishes his task and regroups with the other mutants. Standing next to him is Nicholas Hoult whose Hank McCoy, aka Beast, is now middle aged in the context of the series, though Hoult hasn’t aged a day. We greeted him in our interview tent with the V8 salute from Mad Max: Fury Road, which prompted the biggest grin I’ve ever seen on someone’s face.
“Charles and I are kind of running (the school),” Hoult tells us. “It’s a lot happier than the last movie where I was kind of his enabler and having dark days in the X-Mansion. Hank, since the last movie, still believes that the world kind of needs the X-Men, and that even though there’s peace between humans and mutants at this point, he senses trouble and kind of preparing for the worst.”
Hoult says he’ll spend about 50% of the movie in his blue Beast make-up, adding the Nux make-up from “Fury Road” was far more comfortable, with the bulk of his blue scenes coming at the end of the film.
“He’s aiming much less to please everyone around him and becoming more of a standalone person. Him and Charles are more contemporaries, whereas in First Class he was very much his student, then that developed in Days of Future Past where he was almost Alfred to his Batman, and now they’re working together.”
The First Class developments don’t end with Beast’s arc as Rose Byrne returns to the franchise as Moira MacTaggert. In the context of the series, Moira hasn’t seen any of the X-Men since the events of X-Men: First Class, which took place twenty years before Apocalypse. Not only that, but her memory was previously wiped, leaving her with no traces of Charles, Hank, or anyone else she shared that adventure with.
“I can’t reveal what happens,” Byrne tells us, though revealing her character has remained at the CIA this whole time. “But absolutely part of her story is the memory loss and the amnesia and all those sorts of things. Hopefully we’ll get a little humor out of it, we’ll see.”
We asked Byrne how the CIA reacts to the presence of Apocalypse, especially with her character being the an obsessive fanatic of all things mutants.
“We catch it pretty early on and, so it’s not too established…The short answer is I don’t think many people know. There are these specific clans and he’s sort of a growing underground threat, but it’s still kind of underground. So they catch it right when he starts to come recruit people really.”
A car pulls up the long gravel driveway, or at least it will when you see the film because the car is already parked in place on the day. The passengers jump out and run towards the wrecked school and the gathered students. You know all these students too, they’re the young versions of Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, and Jubilee.
“We have a scene where some of the mutants decide to play hooky,” Singer tells us about where this group of mutants are just before this devastating attack. “While Xavier is off at the CIA they decide to go and steal one of his really, really nice cars… Obviously the instigator is Cyclops, who has only been there for like a day.”
Tye Sheridan takes on the role of Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, for the film and presents a version of the character quite different from the one we’ve seen in the movies beforehand.
“Everyone’s a different person when they’re younger,” Sheridan says of his brash and anti-authority version of the future X-Men leader. “You evolve as a human being with knowledge and attitude and challenges and obstacles in life. Why is he the way he is in the first two or three movies that he’s in? What made him that guy? What obstacles did he go through to get to that point? And that’s kind of what I get to explore in this.”
Cyclops is not alone in his journey in the film. His arc with Jean Grey is described by Singer and Kinberg as one of the most important elements of this movie, not only for the film as a whole but the future of X-Men movies moving forward. “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner plays the younger version of Jean in the film, though she had already returned to Westeros on the day of our visit.
“They’re very young characters who are struggling with their powers,” Kinberg tells us. “And at sort of different points in their lives understanding what it is to be a mutant, and controlling or not controlling their powers. This is a very different Jean and Scott from the Famke Janssen and James Marsden characters that we know from the original trilogy – they are almost opposites in some ways. Scott is not the squeaky clean leader, he’s actually kind of a messed up kid who’s really struggling to find his place in the world and not happy about being at the school. And Jean is someone who is also struggling with her power, sort of emotionally and physically.”
In the final moments of X2: X-Men United, Bryan Singer was able to offer a tease of the Phoenix storyline for the character, but never told his version of that tale after leaving the franchise to reboot Superman. Might he try it again though?
“You never know,” he teased. “But as far as the idea of that brewing within her? Without giving anything away I say absolutely that interests me and you may find a piece of that in this film.”
Production continues during the day and inside our little black tent off to the side of the set Kodi Smit-McPhee sits next to me in his Nightcrawler outfit. Entirely blue with pointed ears, gloved fingers, squished toes and the beginnings of his full body markings on his face, a process that takes well over three hours every day. He points at my arm and tells me “That’s a cool tattoo,” high praise for perhaps the most famous tattoo’d Marvel character.
Smit-McPhee describes his version of the character, the younger version of Alan Cumming’s character that appeared in X2, as very close to what people love about him from the pages of Marvel Comics.
“The more vulnerable, swashbuckling, joyous, random, personality that we love, but also so grounded in his faith at a young age as well, as we went with the choice to still have the designs. So, it’s a mix of ideas, but something that I believe is pretty faithful to what the fans enjoy and something that I can kind of relate to as well.”
Unlike some of the other characters in the film, Nightcrawler will have his trademark accent, which comes at a price for Smit-McPhee to speak in.
“Yes, (I’m) doing the German accent with the big fangs in my mouth and my inch-thick contacts… I say it’s all justified, all the labor that goes into it, the heat, the sweat, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s X-Men. It’s amazing.”
There’s one more newcomer on the roster, but in the context of the film she’s been around for some time. Lana Condor takes on the role of Jubilee in the movie, making not only her feature film debut but her acting debut as the spunky character. When Jean and Scott arrive at Xaver’s School, she is quick to befriend them, having already been at the school for the better part of a decade herself. Unlike the fireworks the character is famous for in the comics, the character has what Condor describes as “fire-plasmoid, electricity type” powers in the film.
“I think in this film she serves as a timepiece,” Condor says. “Because you’ll never really forget that you’re in the ‘80s. Because if you’ve seen my costume, I’m straight out of the ‘80s. She also serves as kind of comedic relief at times where things might be a little more tense and real s*** is going down. I would hope that if they were to have another X-Men that Jubilee would have maybe an even bigger character arc, because she’s just starting out, like she’s just figuring out her powers here, so she’s very much in this film developing. But, I would hope that if we were lucky enough to have enough film that she’d be like, yeah!”
Condor punctuated her excitement by making firework sounds.
When Bryan Singer set the stage for us the day before on what we would be seeing on our second day on set, he mentioned a military helicopter that had landed in the yard and the kids would be reacting to. The helicopter wasn’t present on our day of visiting, it had since been recruited to fight forest fires at its actual day job, but what’s more important is who was on that helicopter – Josh Helman’s William Stryker. Up until this point in the production of Apocalypse, it hadn’t been confirmed if Helman would return, so the cat was out of the bag when he stepped in to talk with us.
“The last time you saw Stryker he was under the employment of Trask and was very dedicated to what Trask was doing and interested in all of his studies,” Helman says of what the character has been doing since Days of Future Past. “I think the 10 years after that is I think he’s been developing his own plan for how he wants to proceed and learning from the mistakes of what happened with the situation with Trask and trying to formulate a plan that he thinks should be put in place for moving forward.”
We know that in previous X-Men films, Stryker has been a primary thorn in the side of the X-Men and in particular Wolverine, who he has tortured and tormented on more than one occasion.
“I don’t know why I keep getting cast as d***heads,” Helman laments with a laugh. “It keeps happening.”
You may recall that the actual last time we saw Stryker, it wasn’t actually the man himself but Raven disguised as the character. Though we’re not given specifics, we’re told this will be addressed at some point in the film. Speaking of Wolverine, Nicholas Hoult tells us that Charles and Hank have pretty much forgotten about their old friend Logan, who they last saw flying across the sky and into the Potomac River.
“Not once,” Holt says, barely containing his laughter, when asked if either of them wonder where Logan went. “We’re real fair weather friends. He disappeared and we’re like, ‘Ah well that’s a shame. He was a nice guy.’”
At the time of our visit (July of 2015), there appear to be no concrete plans for Hugh Jackman to appear in the film, at least in a major role. Singer and Jackman shared a moment on the Hall H stage at Comic-Con which many interpreted as confirmation he would appear, but Singer maintains that exchange was purposefully vague.
“I just pointed out that there’s not been an X-Men film that has not featured Hugh Jackman,” Singer tells us about their SDCC banter. “We were next to each other next to the stage, sort of arm in arm kind of looking at each other and listening to (video of Jackman in X1) and remembering those days. It was very emotional and we pointed this out to each other. There’s a lot of characters, it’s a complicated movie, it’ll be interesting to see what happens…”